Friday, September 12, 2008

"Brannigan" Memories

In “Brannigan” (1975) John Wayne plays the title role, a Chicago cop who is sent to London to extradite a known mobster Larkin (John Vernon) who has fled the country with the help of his shyster Mel Fields (Mel Ferrer).

Larkin is kidnapped by a rival mob and Brannigan brings his Chicago-style way of crime fighting to London. The head of Scotland Yard, Sir Charles Swan (Richard Attenborough) is appalled at his methods to track Larkin down, such as car chases, shootings and brawling in pubs, but I think he has a secret admiration for him. Things aren’t helped that a well-known hit man named Gorman (Daniel Pilon) has been hired to kill Brannigan, and makes several attempts throughout the movie.

“Brannigan” didn’t win any awards, but it’s a hugely enjoyable two hours. There’s something about the massive All-American John Wayne standing before London Bridge, or striding through Trafalgar Square, that is immensely appealing.

Judy Geeson plays his Scotland Yard liaison and she’s very likeable in the best English peaches and cream fashion. I remember when John Vernon died, and all the obits mentioned his role as Dean Wormer in “Animal House.” (1978). Not me. When I heard the news I thought, “Oh man, the guy from Brannigan died.” Such is the life of a John Wayne fan.

The opening scenes are set in Chicago. How the Duke shot a few scenes of a movie in Chicago without me knowing about it I’ve never figured out. Even as a kid, I read the papers for all the latest movie news, but this one escaped me.

It’s fun to see the brief glimpses of Chicago, circa 1975. The old S-curve on Lake Shore Drive is long gone and the vast acreage of asphalt parking lots on display now make up the fashionable River East neighborhood.

All my memories of “Brannigan” are pleasant ones. Back in the 1970s a new John Wayne movie was a big event for this grade school fan.

I had gone to see his previous cop movie “McQ” (1974) at the Dolton Theater, the second-run theater where I saw most movies, and enjoyed it but lamented that it wasn’t a western. Wayne’s last couple of westerns had not been successful, so he decided to go the tough cop route. “McQ” played at the Dolton on a double feature with “Paper Moon” (1974), but my brother and I didn’t care about that one, we skipped it. We were there to see the Duke.

After that I was excited to hear that the Duke was making a guest appearance playing himself on “Maude.” In one scene he displays a poster of “Brannigan” which shows him standing before London Bridge. I thought it was a mock-up, a parody of his recent “McQ” movie and didn’t think anything of it.

A short while later I made a rare foray to a first run theater with a bunch of kids in the neighborhood to see “The Towering Inferno” (1974). I picked up a Movie Facts, a pamphlet-sized description of upcoming movies, and lo and behold there was a listing and short description of “Brannigan.” It was a real movie after all. I could barely contain my excitement and probably spent most of that burning skyscraper movie thinking about the new John Wayne movie.

Like I said, I saw most of my movies at the Dolton, which played almost all of the Duke’s movies, so it was only a matter of time before it played there. Sure enough it eventually showed up, on a double feature with the Sam Peckinpah-directed “The Killer Elite” (1975). I forget what happened, but I wasn’t around that weekend, so the only time I could go was on a school night. But for some strange reason, the Dolton showed the Peckinpah first, and the more family-friendly “Brannigan” at 9:30 p.m. AARGH!

Thanks to very understanding mother and father, I got permission to see the Duke and we decided to make a family outing of it. Nothing brings the family together like the Duke, I always say. (Despite the PG rating, a Sam Peckinpah movie was considered unfit viewing, so there was no question of seeing that one. I didn’t care, as long as I got to see “Brannigan”).

That same week, a new restaurant chain named Wendy’s opened a restaurant in Dolton. There wasn’t the glut of fast food chains there are now, so a new burger chain was an event. Not only that, but the sign advertised “Thick and Frosty” shakes. I couldn’t wait to try it. Mom and dad told me we would have dinner at that new Wendy’s place, and then go see “Brannigan.” What an evening this was going to be!

The big day finally came, my mom, dad, brother and I went to Wendy’s and I loved it. Loved it. It’s still probably my favorite burger chain. Well satisfied, we then went to the Dolton to see “Brannigan” and the whole family really enjoyed it. Action and humor in equal parts. It more than lived up to my expectations. A fabulous night.

By an odd coincidence, about 15 years later, I was traveling through the west on a car vacation with a then girlfriend. We were in Bismarck, North Dakota and thought about taking in the dog races that night. Flipping through the TV guide in the hotel room, I saw that TBS was showing “The Killer Elite”, followed by “Brannigan.”

I almost fell over, that was the same combo that the Dolton showed! I suggested that instead of the dog races we go to the nearby Wendy’s for dinner, then watch “The Killer Elite” and “Branninan”, explaining to her how it would match that wonderful evening many years ago.

She looked at me like I had a foot growing out of my ear. We went to the dog races that night.

Composer Dominic Frontiere supplies a very enjoyable score in the best 1970s urban drama mode. The opening theme resembles a TV cop show theme from the era, but since I’m a fan of TV themes, this didn’t bother me at all. I also liked the music used during the tracking of Mel Fields; it’s very atonal, almost like an imitation “Planet of the Apes” sound. I have a copy of the soundtrack CD autographed by Mr. Frontiere.
While there are many more memorable John Wayne movies, I can’t think of one that generates so many pleasant memories for me.

1 comment:

Dees Stribling said...

1975? Wish I could say I saw Brannigan then, but we saw precious few movies in the theater in those days. Just not a habit yet. That year I did see The Land That Time Forgot, The Man Who Would Be King, and of course the one that still endures, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I think I also saw some Marx Bros. movies at a revival house that year, but it might have been earlier.